Male and female signs: Meaning, historical background, uses

Male and female signs: Meaning, historical background, uses

Have you ever wondered where the male and female signs we use today came from? These gender symbols that have been used for thousands of years have an incredible history behind them, and it has something to do with space.

Male and female signs
Image: (modified by author)
Source: Original

Here is all you need to know about the male female signs and how they came to be.

What are the signs for male and female?

The following signs are widely acknowledged as being female and male signs:

  • ♀ is the sign for female. It can be described as a circle with a cross coming from it.
what does the female symbol look like?
Source: UGC
  • is the male gender sign. This one is described as a circle with an arrow coming from it.
how do you type the male symbol?
Source: UGC

Origin of male and female signs

Where do these signs for male and female come from? The answer to this question can be found in a 2005 British Medical Journal article written by consultant neurologist G.D. Schott.

G.D. Schott wrote that the symbols originated from contractions in Greek writing of the Greek names of the planets Thouros (Mars) and Phosphorous (Venus).

The Mars one soon became associated with males while the Venus one with females. This may be because the image of Mars was closely associated with the Roman god of war while the image of Venus was associated with the Roman goddess of love (the Roman equivalent of Aphrodite).

While the sign for male represents the shield and spear of Mars, its female counterpart represents the Roman goddess' hand mirror.

G.D. Schott then states how Carl Linnaeus, a botanist in the 1700s, played a significant role in developing symbols of alchemy, chemistry, and pharmacy into botany.

According to Schott, Carl Linnaeus used the symbols as a shorthand to save time and space. Schott then states that the male and female signs in use today are often depicted as a square and circle.

Schott then explains that Pliny Earle, a physician at the Bloomingdale Asylum for the Insane in New York, came up with the circle and square in 1845 while studying color blindness in his family. He created a genealogical chart, with males being squares and females circles.

In his journal, Schott explains that Earle did not really explain why he chose these particular symbols, but that he (Schott) had heard a theory by Edward Nettleship, who was a fellow at the Royal Society and consultant ophthalmic surgeon to the Royal London Ophthalmic and St. Thomas's Hospitals.

Nettleship states that Earle could not find a printer's symbol for the standard male and female symbols. However, he found one with music symbols and found some symbols that resemble circles and squares, so he used those instead.

what are the signs for male and female?
Source: UGC

Uses of gender signs

These symbols are used to represent biological sex and gender in biology or medicine, in genealogy, or in the sociological fields of gender politics, LGBT subculture, and identity politics.

However, they were first used to denote the effective sex of plants by Carl Linnaeus in 1751.

FAQs about gender symbols

Here are more interesting bits of knowledge about gender symbols.

How do you type the female symbol?

  • On Windows: Alt + 9792
  • Word shortcut: 2640 Alt + X
  • Mac shortcut: Opt + 2640

How do you type the male symbol?

  • Windows shortcut: Alt + 9794
  • Word shortcut: 2642 Alt + X
  • Mac shortcut: Opt + 2642

What does the female symbol look like?

It looks like a circle with a cross coming from it.

Other signs

Here are some other signs you should know:

Other gender signs

  • ⚦ ⚨ ⚩ : hermaphrodite / transgender / transexual / intersex / alchemical symbol for iron, crocus of iron
  • ⚲ : neuter, eunuch, no gender
  • ⚪ : asexuality, sexless, genderless; engaged, betrothed.

Sexual relation signs

  • ⚢ : lesbian
  • ⚤ : heterosexual
  • ⚣ : gay
  • ⚥ : bisexual, intercourse.
  • ⚧ : hermaphrodite / transgender / transexual / intersex, threesome, pansexual.

Marriage status signs

  • ⚭ : Marriage symbol
  • ⚮ : Divorce
  • ⚯ : Unmarried partnership

As you can see, male and female signs have an interesting history behind their formation and even uses. Maybe now you also understand the popular phrase, "Men are from Mars and women are from Venus".


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